Thursday, January 13, 2011

It's Official: Google is Evil

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last 24 hours, you've no doubt heard about (if not read) Ars Technica's story "Google's dropping H.264 from Chrome a step backward for openness". After 19 hours on the site, the story has generated 552 comments. A link to the story on Slashdot, in which the Slashdot story poster wrote the introduction as an ad hominem abuse of the Ars Technica author, has already garnered 751 comments.

All this started when Google annouced 11 January it would drop support for H.264 encoded video via the HTML5 video tag within Chrome. Going forward they'll only support "open" video codecs, which currently amount to Theora and Google's own WebM. The repercussions of their unilateral decision have echoed around the far corners of the Internets ever since.

Let me state up front that I agree completely with every point raised in the Ars Technica article. I can't add much more to that other than additional "illumination" to some points raised by Peter Bright and counterpoints raised by his legion of detractors.

Just because you've announced that your codec is supported by "Mozilla, Opera, Adobe, Google and more than forty other publishers, software and hardware vendors" doesn't make you a serious contender. To be a serious contender, you have to have design wins, especially with the silicon being manufactured to support your codec. Next, you have to manufacture devices, ship them, market them, and hope they're adopted in sufficient numbers to make a decent return on investment. And then you need to wait.

And while you wait for these devices to make their way into consumer's hands, you must never forget that there's a huge mountain of existing merchandise that people are currently using and quite happy with, and will be for some time to come. And all that hardware supports H.264 and only H.264.

Oh. And let's not forget Flash, which His Jobness has tried valiantly to slay, but remains at large with a 97% installed base. And, of course, it uses H.264.

I believe Google is being influenced by their perceived success with Android. According to the trade press, it looks like Android is beating Apple six ways to Sunday, at least in the American mobile market (although perhaps not so much in Europe). This is because there has been, up until now, one and only one place to officially buy and use your iPhone: AT&T. But all that's going to change in February when Verizon starts to ship its very own iPhone. And when that happens, Android handset makers may get an unpleasant surprise; a flattening, if not an outright drop in sales, at least on Verizon.

But right now Google feels on top of the world, and thus feels emboldened enough to make this change in codec support within Chrome. Sure, there'll be some wailing and gnashing of teeth, but The Google overlords figure it will pass quickly and The Google can continue with its plans for dominating web video.

If only it were that simple.

This act also reminds me of some of the shenanigans that landed Microsoft in hot water with the DoJ back in the 1990s. Which, if the same thing were to happen to The Google, would be ironic, considering how The Google is all for open standards and an open web and choice. Especially choice. How so typically New Speak-ish of The Google to tell me they are helping me by limiting my choices through their non-support of H.264. I'm so happy somebody at The Google made the decision for me.

I, for one, am looking forward to our new Internet masters.

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